CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1934

Les Townsend

Leslie Fletcher Townsend, one of the best all-round cricketers to appear for Derbyshire, was born at Long Eaton on June 8, 1903, so that his most successful season--that of last summer--came to him rather later in life than it does to the average first-class player in modern days. Curiously enough, he did not play any cricket when as a boy he attended the local Council School, but he was always a faithful attendant at the matches in which his local club engaged and, living as he did not seven miles from Trent Bridge, he took every opportunity possible to watch county matches on that enclosure. There he became deeply impressed with the doings of George Gunn and registered a pious resolve to copy as far as he could the methods of that famous batsman when the time came for him to take up cricket seriously. Meanwhile, he showed such promising form at Long Eaton, that the club officials recommended him to the attention of the Derbyshire County authorities. Arthur Morton, the former Derbyshire player and now a first-class umpire, quickly saw that Townsend was full of promise and he taught the youngster the art of spinning a cricket ball when bowling. When he joined Derbyshire; Sam Cadman took him in charge and thus Townsend enjoyed special benefit in being helped so materially by these two good Derbyshire cricketers.

All the same, his talents have been slow to ripen. That, however, cannot altogether be to his disadvantage, and many another cricketer to make a name for himself has had a similar experience. At the age of nineteen, he played first in county cricket in 1922 for Derbyshire against Northamptonshire, but not until 1927 did he accomplish anything of note. In that season he scored 564 runs and took 66 wickets. Thenceforward, his progress was sure and steady. Indeed, the following year he made a pronounced advance by scoring 1,001 runs and taking 104 wickets in all matches. This was repeated in 1932 when he became the first Derbyshire player ever to complete this feat in county engagements. In passing, it may be mentioned that the late George Davidson accomplished the double as far back as 1895, but not, like Townsend, exclusively for Derbyshire, M.C.C. cricket yielding him many successes both in batting and bowling.

Last season, Townsend came right to the front, and in all matches scored 2,224 runs and dismissed exactly 100 batsmen. He had, however, to wait until the second innings of the last match of a busy summer--Yorkshire v. Rest of England at The Oval--before he secured his hundredth wicket, and then only after a great race with Freeman, the Kent bowler, who was just as earnestly striving to take his 300th wicket. Townsend succeeded in his ambition; Freeman just missed it.

In his early days of county cricket, Townsend, like dozens of other young batsmen, often lost his wicket through lack of patience during the important period of playing himself in. With experience has come the necessary restraint, and he now stands before the world a first-rate batsman thoroughly well equipped, a very good medium paced right-hand bowler, and a sure field. He always possessed plenty of powerful strokes and as he so often showed last summer he can turn the course of a game by vigorous hitting. He is especially good in front of the wicket, his off-driving being as a rule well-timed and placed. But he has various other strokes at command, and when well-set is a difficult man to dismiss. As a bowler, he breaks the ball from the off, and, with a nice easy action, imparts the necessary spin to make it come quickly off the pitch.

In 1927 he played in one of the Test Trial Matches; in 1929 and last season he appeared for the Players against the Gentlemen at Lord's while in the winter of 1929-30 he was a member of the M.C.C. team under the Hon. F. S. G. Calthorpe to go to the West Indies, but although finishing at the top of the bowling averages in representative matches he accomplished little of importance on tour. Townsend has not yet figured in a Test Match in England but at any rate he has reached a stage in his cricket career when he can be regarded as one of the leading all-rounders in the country. During the winter he went to India with the M.C.C. team under D. R. Jardine.

To those in the Derbyshire eleven younger than himself, he is always ready and anxious to give useful advice, and as a teetotaller and non-smoker he keeps himself in the first-rate condition necessary to undergo the heavy strain of a season's cricket. An admirable type of the present-day professional. -- S.J.S.

© John Wisden & Co